The bright, cheerful flowers of Four O'Clocks often go unnoticed, because they don't open until late in the afternoon. However once they do, you are treated to an orange-scented aroma that wafts through the air. Plant them near your outdoor seating area and bask in this wonderful scent. The flowers remain open until morning and will even bloom during the day, if the weather is overcast. Plants can be started by either tubers or seed.
They can become a nuisance in warmer climates, but gardeners in cooler zones will need to either reseed every year or pot some up as houseplants, for the winter.
Overview and Description: Fragrant, cheerful Mirabilis jalapa goes by many names. The most popular name, “Four O’Clocks” came about because the flowers open in late afternoon. Four O’Clock flowers remain open until morning and on cloudy days they may not close at all. Their other common name “Marvel of Peru” is probably because they are native to the topical areas of South America. And Mirabilis means wonderful, in Latin.
Four O’Clocks are a bushy tender perennial that can be grown from either a tuber or seeds. In ideal conditions, they can become a nuisance, but gardeners in cold climates can keep the re-seeding under control.
• Leaves: Opposite, slightly pointed oval leaves and multi-branching stems.
• Flowers: Trumpet-shaped, 5 petal flowers come in pink, red, yellow, white and some bi-colors. Flowers have a slight vanilla scent and open in the late afternoon through the evening.
CAUTION: The seeds are poisonous if ingested. Some reports claim that the leaves are both attractive and lethal to Japanese beetles.
Hardiness Zone: Four O'Clocks are reliably hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 7B - 11. If you live in a cooler zone, don't let that stop you from growing them. They are they can easily be grown as an annual flower and will graciously self sow in your garden.
Exposure You will get the most flowering if you plant your Four O'Clocks in full sun . The plants can take some shade, but at least 6 hours of sun is needed for best flowering.
Mature Size: Expect your plants to grow 1 - 4 ft. tall x 1 - 3 ft. wide
Bloom Period Once Four O'Clocks get going, they will bloom from mid-summer to fall.
• Mirabilis jalapa Mix - Old-fashioned self-seeding Four O’Clocks in mixed solid colors.
• Mirabilis jalapa 'Alba' - Self-seeding all white Four O’Clocks
• 'Jingles' cultivars - Smaller plants with two-tone and multi-colored flowers.
• Kaleidoscope - A hybrid with multi-colored pink, yellow and white blooms..
Design Suggestions: Since Four O’Clocks bloom in the evening, plant them where you’re sure to see them and catch a whiff of their fragrance. Pots on decks, along walkways and on the edges of seating areas. They mingle and grow through other plants nicely, making a nice underplanting. Hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular flowers.
Growing Tips: Soil: Four O’Clocks ares not particular about soil pH, but do best in a soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. They are heavy feeders, though, and a rich, well-draining soil is ideal. They can go dormant if left in dry conditions for too long.
Planting Four O’Clocks: Where perennial, you can divide and replant Four O'Clock tubers pretty much anytime. In colder climates, tubers can be dug and stored in the fall, to be replanted when the soil warms in the spring.
Four O'Clocks can also be grown from seed. The easiest method is to direct seed them outdoors, just before your last frost date. Soaking the seeds over night, before planting, can speed germination, but the seeds germinate almost as quickly as they grow. Chances are good that if you allow your plants to go to seed in the fall, they will self-seed in the garden. Seedlings can be easily pulled and moved to another section.
Maintenance: Where perennial, cut back old Four O’Clock stems in the spring and give them a shot of fertilizer, if your soil is poor. Mulch around the plants, to keep the soil moist and the plants blooming.
Because Four O’Clocks bloom so profusely, keeping them deadheaded is all but impossible and they don’t really need it to keep blooming. In drier seasons, when the plants can get a little ragged looking, a shearing back by about 1/3 will refresh them. In very dry conditions, the plants can stop blooming entirely, until they are revived with some water.
Pests & Problems:Rusts, (white rust and brown rust) and some leaf spot diseases can affect the foliage.
Taken from http://gardening.about.com/od/flowergardening/ss/Deliciously-Fragrant-Heirloom
Till next time, this is Becky Litterer from Becky's Greenhouse, Dougherty, Iowa